The Perfect Score (PG-13) ★★

Review Date: January 29th, 2004

We all know taking the SAT is tedious, but surprisingly, The Perfect Score--a story about a group of high school seniors who conspire to steal the answers to the test--is not as dull as one would imagine.


High school senior Kyle (Chris Evans) sees his dreams of becoming an architect crushed when he doesn't earn a high enough score on the SAT exam to get him into an Ivy League school. He learns he isn't the only one thwarted by the ''Suck Ass Test,'' as it's labeled in the film: Kyle's best friend Matty (Bryan Greenberg) can't get into his girlfriend's college; overachiever Anna (Erika Christensen) froze when she took the test her parents expected her to ace; and star basketball player Desmond (Darius Miles) is feeling the pressure to get a good score so he can play ball for a good school. Since they all need an extra boost, Kyle comes up with a plan to steal the answers from the local testing headquarters before they have to retest, enlisting the help of edgy, anti-establishment Francesca (Scarlett Johansson), whose father owns the building, and Ray (Leonardo Nam), a stoner who overhears the plan and wants in. As the six execute the heist of their lifetime, they discover a little something extra about themselves along the way.


The Perfect Score players are all fairly likeable in their parts, including Evans (Not Another Teen Movie), Greenberg (WB's One Tree Hill) and Miles, a real-life pro basketball player who makes his big-screen debut. Christensen, who was so good in Traffic as Michael Douglas' drug-addicted daughter, comes off the worst as the uptight Anna, who's just yearning to break free. Ho-hum. But among the lesser roles are a few standouts. Johansson--recently nominated for two Golden Globes for her tremendous performances in Lost in Translation and Girl With a Pearl Earring--makes the absolute most of her character, delivering Francesca's sardonic zingers with ease (''Gee, Dawson, I don't know if you and Pacey can pull it off!'') and blowing fresh air into the often stale plot. Along with Johansson, newcomer Nam is also refreshing, putting a unique twist on the classic pothead character. He utilizes the usual stoner attributes--laziness, laughter, binge eating--but under the seemingly dim exterior, Ray's actually more on the ball than the rest, spouting prophetic non-sequiturs that somehow make sense.


Standardized testing has become an integral part of the American education system as well as a very large and profitable business. Apparently, of the 2.8 million kids who graduated from high school in 2002, 1.3 million took the SAT--and poured an estimated $250 million into test-prep courses. Yet the SAT has been a topic of debate for many years because it's allegedly biased against certain races, ethnicities and genders. In The Perfect Score, director Brian Robbins (Varsity Blues) accurately taps into every high school student's inherent fear of the dreaded standardized test, making the point that the SAT really isn't very fair, especially the score resulting from the four-hour marathon is weighed against the accomplishments of four years of high school. But how do you create a compelling narrative around this concept? The Perfect Score tries its best, setting up relationships and reasons for the main characters to do what they do but, ultimately, it doesn't fill in all the bubbles. The setup takes a long time and the heist even longer, and through it all the kids mostly stand around and talk about their complicated lives. In fact, Francesca jokes at one point that they should all get real and dish about their feelings, à la The Breakfast Club--which is indeed what they end up doing.

Bottom Line

If we were to give The Perfect Score a SAT score, it would be a 1040--it doesn't pass with flying colors, but a few choice moments and several good actors do make the grade.